On Saturday, Bruce Chen will make his third appearance of Spring Training, filling in for an ill Carlos Carrasco against the Dodgers. Chen, 38, has logged over 1,525 innings in sixteen major league season. If he breaks camp with the Tribe, the veteran starter will have played for 11 teams in his career, including spending the last six years with the Kansas City Royals.
With the Indians, Chen is less likely to take the mound in the first inning, and more likely to battle Zach McAllister for the job of long reliever. While Chen has never been dominating, he’s capable of pitching his fair share of innings. He averaged 120 innings per season with the Royals, despite being a starter in only 72 percent of his outings during that time.
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The left-hander is hardly an intimidating force on the mound. With a 4.58 FIP over the last six season, he struck out less than 16 percent of batters and walked just under 8 percent. Those aren’t impressive numbers by any means, but the Indians felt that signing him to a minor league deal was worth a shot as a depth signing.
But Chen has an uphill battle – he’s not going to beat out T.J. House for a rotation spot, and the bullpen is already filled with fellow left-handers Marc Rzepczynski, Nick Hagadone and Kyle Crockett. Barring a serious string of injuries, Chen would have to do something pretty impressive to warrant the omission of any of those pitchers.
So far this spring, Chen has pitched five innings over the course of two games, striking out seven of the 19 batters he’s faced and allowing just three hits and a walk. Of course, two of those hits were solo home runs, but he’s still looked solid in a very small sample size. When he starts Saturday’s game, it will be an opportunity to prove he can have similar success against a team’s everyday starting lineup.
Chen has the option to opt out of his contract at the end of spring if he doesn’t make the major league roster. Last season, the Royals released him in late August, following a 7.45 ERA season. But he did have a 4.58 FIP, which – although not good – is about what teams can expect from him.
It’s possible that the Tribe might be able to get some use out of Chen, if McAllister winds up in the rotation instead of the bullpen due to Gavin Floyd’s injury, but that will depend heavily upon Chen’s performance for the remainder of spring.